Since I was young, my grandpa would burst into joy at the sight of arrow construction signs. He would explain how he made the signs– with a sense of pride behind every word. As a child I would think, “I’ve heard this story already,” but I’d let him continue because he was happy to show us what he had accomplished. To this day, he tells us the story every time we see a sign, which, with every freeway near his home under construction, is a frequent occurrence. But, people tell stories over and over because they attach meaning to these experiences– a much deeper meaning than we first realize.
When I interviewed my grandpa I noticed that he felt uncomfortable talking about his youth and life in Mexico. To say that he came from humble beginnings is an understatement. He knew the meaning of hunger and poverty, but, under the guidance of his grandfather, he learned the value of a good work ethic. While he refused to admit and acknowledge that he had a difficult childhood, he continuously looked to jump forward and discuss his journey to America. America allowed him to construct his life into something he was proud of– this is what he wanted to showcase. The construction signs are more than a tangible outcome of his work; rather, they serve as a testament of his financial stability and self-sustainability. His immigration experience is defined by his drive to be independent and establish a stable life for his family. Whether he does it subconsciously or not, by telling us the construction sign stories he is sharing his accomplishments.
When I interviewed my grandpa a new story came to light and stood out because in some way it was my memory, too. He noted that everyday he would wait for his grandpa to get home because his grandpa would give him a pear, banana, or apple. As my grandpa’s self-proclaimed favorite, he always stores fruit for me. While I struggle to eat at the rate that he buys the fruit, I can never reject his gift. I always thought it was his way of caring for someone, but the action goes beyond that. He is continuing a tradition that his grandpa started with him. Through the fruit, he demonstrates that he is able to support his family. He looks to define himself by this ability– to him, America provided this opportunity.